All human beings were once locavores, meaning we ate what we could hunt and gather locally. Due in part to the environmental and health consequences of modern food production––meats, beans, breads, fruits, and vegetables gleaned from other continents and flown or shipped to our local grocers––many people are becoming more aware of how they purchase food for their tables.
For example, those Dole bananas gently ripening on your kitchen counter obviously didn’t come from western Minnesota; they likely came via ship and airplane from a Latin American country such as Costa Rica, a distance of around 2,600 miles. If you loosely calculate the amount of gas it would take to drive bananas from its source in Costa Rica all the way back to Fargo, you would spend about $400 in fuel alone––and that’s if you’re driving a green machine like a Honda Fit. Let’s hope the bananas are still good by the time you get back.
While there are some foods we just can’t grow or purchase around the area, tropical fruits among them, becoming a locavore is actually easier than you think. Potatoes, corn, wheat, dairy, bison, turkey, venison, and a virtual smorgasbord of fresh greens and succulent tomatoes can be grown by area farmers and sourced from our fertile North Dakota and Minnesota soils.
Don’t feel like you have to give up kiwi, banana, pineapple, or any other tropical delight. Jennifer Maiser, editor of “Eat Local Challenge,” a website for writers to share their experiences of all things locavore, says, “The great thing about eating local is that it’s not an all-or-nothing venture. Any small step you take helps the environment, protects your family’s health, and supports small farmers in your area.”
In a nutshell, here are some great reasons you may want to keep it local:
- By eating locally grown foods, you maintain a more direct connection to our food supply. Knowing where your food comes from helps you understand its relationship to your body and community.
- Food is of great importance to our local economy.Farming is a major engine of the economic growth and fate
of our region.
- Eating locally has relevance to promoting sustainable and environmentally less damaging farming and eating habits.
A Feast Fit for (Local) Kings
In order to get back in touch with what is readily available in our region, my wife Janelle and I decided to hold a locavore fall feast, inviting family to join us at our home in Moorhead to share the bounty of locally produced food.
Janelle and I had a leg up in preparing our locally derived feast due to our membership with the Bluebird Gardens CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) near Fergus Falls, Minn. CSAs are great for families looking to take advantage of local foods without the work of planting, weeding, and tending their own gardens. A CSA is also a fantastic way to eat locally and experience a variety of produce and meat grown and processed close to home.
Early in the spring, our first weekly CSA boxes contained lettuces, cabbages, beets, and turnips. As we approached mid-August, my favorites were coming to us in abundance: sweet corn, potatoes, onions, kale, and cucumbers, with squash and pumpkin coming soon.
Of course, you don’t need to belong to a CSA in order to sample the veggies of the valley. Odds are good if you don’t garden yourself you know someone who does. I’ve heard in some small towns people have to lock their cars in late summer to ensure their neighbors don’t fill the passenger seat with too much zucchini.
Often, you can set up a barter and trade system with neighbors. For example, our
neighbors grow slightly different vegetables than we do and are eager to swap their bumper crop of tomatoes and peppers with some of our cabbage and potatoes.
Another great option is to visit the local farmers markets and vegetable stands that spring up throughout the area in the summer and fall months. Along with vegetables, local vendors may also sell value-added food products such as salsa and jelly.
Don’t rule out area grocery stores either. Produce departments from stores such as Hornbacher’s and Cash Wise include as much local produce as they can get their hands on throughout the growing season.
The Main Event: Locally-Raised Meat
Preparing the feast was a bit stressful for us, as it was the first, big, Thanksgiving-sized dinner we were in charge of serving. True to our generation, we found most of our preparation and cooking tips through Google. My grandmother sniffed a bit when she was forced to sit through an eHow.com video describing how to make gravy, but hey, it worked for us.
For the main course of our local feast we chose to feature the symbol of Thanksgiving––and Benjamin Franklin’s choice to be our national bird––the turkey. Janelle was able to procure an early bird from our farmer, Mark Boen, of Bluebird Gardens. Janelle, who is a vegetarian, could not resist sampling the bird and declared it delicious. She paid for it late that night with a tummy ache, so we don’t recommend other strict vegetarians follow her example.
If you choose to feature another meat besides turkey at your locavore feast, consider venison as an entree. Several members of my immediate family are avid outdoorsmen and keep a supply of locally produced meat in their freezers in between hunting seasons. Deer hunting provides not only a traditional form of recreation for hunters, but it adds a valuable function in thinning the excess deer population we have helped to create through our land use patterns. Duck, pheasant, and other game birds may also be available close to your own table. Ask around and you may find a hunter with too much meat in the deep freeze who is willing to trade for a portion of your bumper tomato crop.
Don’t Forget the Sides
The meal was amazing. Our Internet recipes did not steer us wrong, and the turkey and gravy were outstanding. Sweetened beets filled in nicely as a local replacement for cranberries (at least the color was the same). My mother picked up a few bottles of wine from the Maple River Winery located in Casselton, adding to the luxury of our local spread. She also brought homemade applesauce made from the fruit of her neighbor’s apple tree and raspberries she grew on her own fence line.
Carrots from the neighbor’s garden, located near Portland, N.D., were combined with green beans from Bluebird Gardens, to create a flavorful vegetable dish. In addition to these sides, we had buttery sweet corn and creamy mashed potatoes, all grown locally.
Now that you know how fun and easy it can be to eat locally produced food, why not prepare and serve your own locavore fall feast? We discovered the real challenge is not sourcing the ingredients, but choosing from among the many great local options available. A delectable dilemma indeed.
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